Update on Madison BOE policy regarding students taking non-MMSD courses:

The February 25, 2008 Meeting of the Performance & Achievement Committee was devoted to developing a policy regarding students taking non-MMSD courses. The proposal Pam Nash suggested to the committee was essentially identical to the highly restrictive one she had originally proposed during the December, 2006 meeting of this committee: students would be permitted to earn a maximum of TWO ELECTIVE credits for course work and only when no comparable course is offered ANYWHERE in the District. Even Rainwater felt these rules were overly restrictive. He seemed willing (i) to increase the number of credits a student could earn, and (ii) to permit students to take a course offered elsewhere in the District if the student could not reasonably access the District’s course. Discussion of the Nash proposed policy ensued, but no specific revisions to it were made during this committee meeting. Both Maya and Johnnie (2 or the 3 members of the committee) suggested that the District needed to research the topic better, e.g., investigate what other comparable school districts in WI (e.g., Appleton which has in place a much less restrictive policy) were doing and to obtain feedback from the guidance departments of each of the 5 high schools, before the BOE should vote on approving a policy. Lawrie, chair of this committee, bypassed having a vote on whether to recommend the Nash version of the policy to the full BOE since she clearly would have lost such a vote. Instead, she simply stated that she had ALREADY placed this topic on the agenda for a special meeting of the BOE to be held March 10th, a meeting at which public appearances will NOT be permitted. Why the urgency now after we have been waiting for 6 years for the District to develop a policy in this matter? Possibly, the new Board that starts in April would approve a different policy, one that better meets the needs of students. Thus, folks, your only remaining opportunities to influence this policy to be approved by the BOE on March 10th are (i) to email and phone members of the BOE between now and March 10, telling them your opinions and why, ideally with examples of specific students, and (ii) to attend the March 10th meeting so the Board members will know you are watching how they vote.

5 thoughts on “Update on Madison BOE policy regarding students taking non-MMSD courses:”

  1. I missed being able to watch this discussion on TV, so I have a few questions.
    Are there 4 board members who support this policy? There must be. If not, why would this topic be on the March 10th agenda, wasting the full board’s time before the committee has a chance to discuss and to approve a draft policy for board consideration. Did the Board ask for this to be handled by the Performance and Achievement Committee? Did the Committee vote last night not to approve and to pass along to the full board for discussion and possible decision? If so, what reasons were given for doing so?
    Was there a review of what is being done in districts around the state with comparable urban populations? How will this affect students at Shabaz as well as the four ‘big’ high schools.
    If it’s not as many students, why are we making it so tough for them? Is there an equity issue of who can pay/not pay? What options have been discussed for addressing this?
    Sorry I missed the discussion, but based upon Janet’s note above, these are questions that came to mind.

  2. Lawrie had already put it on the March 10th agenda of the full BOE BEFORE the subcommittee had even met on February 29th. She did so using some obscure BOE rule that permitted her to do so even though she lacked the votes needed to move it out of the Performance & Achievement Committee. As chair of the subcommitte, she didn’t call for a vote, knowing she would lose it 1-2. Instead, she just stated she had already requested it be placed on the March 10th agenda for the full BOE, in a special meeting that does not allow for public appearances. Johnnie and Maya both indicated at the subcommitte meeting that they desired more information (e.g., what other districts in WI are doing, the number of affected students) before the issue should be consider by the full BOE. Nash never gave this information to the subcommittee; she may never have bothered to obtain it even though it has been 14 months since the BOE requested it. Lawrie wants the full BOE to vote on the issue before she leaves the BOE in April. Possibly, she has 4 votes to get the Nash proposal passed now, but the 4 votes may no longer be there once Lawrie and Carol are replaced in April, the reason for the sudden urgency after spending the past 6 years not getting around to approving a policy on this issue.
    It is my belief that this policy will affect 30-50 students per year. If the Nash version is approved, some Shabazz, ill, disabled, gifted, and other alternative learners will fail to graduate. Some families that can afford to do so will leave for private schools and other districts more willing to meet the special needs of these students, taking their State $s with them. These special needs kids of families that can’t afford to do so will be screwed.
    I think the controversy centers in large part around the number of students who will be affected. MTI and some staff fear the number of students who would take non-MMSD courses under my version of the policy would be in the many hundreds, if not thousands. If this were true, it would cause several serious problems. However, their fear of large numbers of students is not based upon facts. Appleton has such a policy – they have a maximum of 30 students per year taking non-district courses under this policy. The MMSD in recent years has had ~35 students taking non-MMSD courses per year under its YOP. The YOP works just fine. This is the size of the number we are talking about, not the hundreds or thousands MTI fears. Students at West and Shabazz had previously been taking non-MMSD courses for credit without a problem. My proposal is not a change in policy; Nash’s proposal is the change, one designed to force all students into a one-size-fits-all curriculum delivered in one standard mode.
    Please phone BOE members or email “comments” prior to March 10 expressing your opinions on this matter and giving examples of how the Nash proposed policy might adversely affect your students or other students known to you. Thanks.

  3. The proposed district policy seems particularly designed to punish certain groups of students and place impediments in their path to getting their educational needs met. For instance, expecting students and parents to know on March 1 what courses they will take outside of the district seems unreasonable when you consider that UW Madison does not finalize its fall timetable until later in the spring.
    Does the district even have any data on the numbers of students who take non-MMSD courses? If the numbers are low, as I expect they are, then the district is shooting itself in the foot by projecting an image of itself as hostile to the diverse educational needs of students whose learning needs cannot be met in the traditional high school classroom or by the courses available in their high school.

  4. Thank you, Janet, for taking on such a time-consuming role advocating for the needs of MMSD students who lie outside the mainstream, even after your own children have left MMSD.
    MMSD is getting more efficient at putting up video of their meetings. Last night’s meeting (Monday 3/3) is already posted. A small but interesting point came up after hours of discussion on boundary changes and middle school report cards, when Lawrie Kobcza stated that she had reconsidered her decision to move the issue of students taking non-MMSD courses for credit on to the whole board. She has decided to keep this issue within Performance and Achievement for more discussion.

  5. I just had an email exchange with Lawrie, in which she confirmed that she will be keeping the matter in Committee a while longer.

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